Sunday, December 3, 2006


I’ve always had a hard time sensing low blood sugars. After a serious reaction that required glucagon, my endocrinologist told my mom that I had a “defective adrenaline system.” As a child I had many reactions that involved my parents sitting on me trying to get me to eat something, glucagon, and/or visits from the paramedics. As an adult, I have always been vigilant about testing often, to prevent these lows. I would get up in the middle of the night to test. Many years ago, my beagle/terrier mix dog had started waking me up in the middle of the night if I was low. She would lick in my ear and bark until I got up. She died 4 years ago, and I realized how important she was to my diabetes management. That’s when I started exploring the possibility of getting a dog that would be trained to alert me when I was low. Specifically at night when I was sleeping.

A friend led me to Great Plains Assistance Dog Foundation in Jud, North Dakota. I filled out an application and started thinking about financing. The cost of a service dog from Great Plains was $15,000. I filled out financial assistance forms. Then, my colleague at school told me that she wanted to spearhead a school district fundraiser for me to get a dog. She arranged everything. I went to my dad’s Lion’s Club meeting and they agreed to give me some money. I finally got a call from Great Plains that they had a dog for me, and I scheduled training for August of 2005. My school district raised over $8,000 dollars. My sister made a donation. I had all the money that I needed.

I went to Jud for three weeks. The first day I worked with a couple of different dogs. The last one I worked with was Dixie. She was much smaller than the other labs there. They thought she was a lab/chow-chow cross, because she had a black tongue. I knew that she was going to be the one for me. The training staff told me that she was my primary candidate. The first day I sat and watched a video. Dixie sat by my feet. A couple minutes into watching it, Dixie sat up and started hitting me with her paw. The training staff had told me to test anytime she did anything “different.” I tested and was 62. My first time being really excited to be low. That was the beginning.

Dixie was only about a year and a half years old when she came home with me. Her skills continue to refine over time. When I’m low or dropping, Dixie will sit and hit me with her front paws. If I don’t respond to that, she will hit harder. If I still don’t respond, she will do other things. If I’m at school, she will jump on a table in my classroom. If I’m at a restaurant, she will break her “down- stay” and stand up and stare at me. I am not high very often. But this past weekend, we were out shopping and she kept staring at me, standing and breaking the commands that I gave her. I finally tested and was 320. My pump site was not working anymore. People ask if she has different signals for low or high. No, she doesn’t. I haven’t focused on that in her training because high doesn’t happen often and I can feel that. It’s the lows that I don’t get symptoms for anymore.

It’s not always easy or convenient to have a big, black dog around. But she has saved me over and over again, and the inconvenience doesn’t seem to matter. Now that we’ve been together for a year and a half, I can’t imagine not having her to help.

Dixie is my miracle. I am blessed.


Scott K. Johnson said...

What a great helper!

What is the little thing that is hanging from her collar in the picture? The little red pouch?

Can you tell us more about your relationship in terms of the separation between her working and you being able to "love her up"?

From the brief exposure I've had to service dogs, when they are "on duty" there are certain things you are not supposed to do. Is that correct?

Maybe a topic for another post sometime?


mel said...

OOoh, I might spend too much time "loving her up." So if that's a problem, I probably shouldn't apply for a service dog :)

I think it's truly amazing what these animals can do--Man's best friend!

George said...

That is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this. I did not know that service dogs like this existed!

Kevin said...

That is so cool.

I have a beagle that we love so, so much, and I've thought about how to train him to recognize my lows. I can still sense mine, but the symptoms seem to be getting more and more subtle over time.

Do you have any resources on how one might go about training a service dog for diabetics?

I would greatly appreciate it!

Molly said...

Scott and Mel..
The first week of training is just to develop a bond. That's why she works so hard for me.
I love her up like crazy. The only difference is that she has to have strict obedience when she's out in the community. Like if we're at a restaurant, I can't "love her up" because she needs to lay quiet. When she's on duty, other people can't pet her, or she gets distracted. That's why her vest says "please don't pet me, I'm working.
When we're alone, she is just like any pet dog and is snuggled and loved. Maybe even more so because we're so close.

Kevin...Not sure, but maybe contacting the place I got Dixie. They help people self train. The staff there are GREAT!

Nina said...

Oh my goodness what a great story! I would love to read more about Dixie and your experiences with her. I would also like to know more about your hypo unawareness. Do you just never feel it at all? Or you only begin to feel it when it's too late? I have never passed out or had a seizure before but my blood sugars are going lower and lower before I have symptoms. Today I was at 49 before I realized anything was wrong whre I used to feel low in the 60s and 70s. I'm starting to worry abot it now.

Minnesota Nice said...

What an exceptional dog.
(I think we all have to be reminded not to pet service dogs when they are on duty - it's tempting because they are all so dear and sweet.)

Molly said...


Forgot to answer about the red thing hanging from her collar. It's a tag silencer. It keeps her tags from clinking. It's nice to have at school when we are walking in the halls or in classrooms. Shhh!

Scott K. Johnson said...

Thanks Molly!

Great info. Thanks for patiently answering all of our questions!

I think this is something that we are all very curious about because not many folks we know have service dogs.

I think it will be more and more common for people with diabetes to have service dogs in the near future.

There's another person I know in the metro area here that uses one. She came and spoke at a local pump group meeting. It was fascinating to hear about how talented these dogs are. And what a lifesaver for those they are helping.

Really great stuff.

Thank you!

Bernard said...


Thanks for a wonderful story. You are truly blessed. I hope you can eventually train Dixie to recognize the highs and 'tell' you in a different way.

It sounds like she easily beats having a CGM system. You can't love something like your pump - but a sweetheart dog is real easy.